200 B. POLEVOI Klavdia Mikhailovna stopped at the door; her slim, graceful figure stood out clearly against the background of the dark corridor. Meresyev had never suspected that this quiet nurse, no longer young, could be so femininely firm and attractive. She stood in the doorway with her head thrown back and looked at the major as if from a pedestal. "Very well," she said. "I will answer you. I do not love you, and probably will never be able to love you." She went away. The major flung himself on his bed and buried his head in the pillow. Meresyev now saw the reason for the major's strange behaviour during the past few days, his irritableness and nervousness when the nurse came into the ward, and his sudden turns from cheerfulness to outbursts of violent anger. He must have been enduring real torment. Alexei was sorry for him and at the same time pleased. When the major got up from his bed, Alexei could not forgo the pleasure of teasing him. "Well, can I spit you in the face, Comrade Major?" Had he foreseen the effect these words would have upon the major, he would not have uttered them even in jest. Struchkov rushed to Alexei's bed and in a voice of despair shouted: "Spit! Go on, spit! You will be right. I deserve it. But what shall I do now? Tell me! Teach me what to do! You heard us, didn't you?..." He sat down on the bed, clutching his head in his hands and swaying his body from side to side. "Perhaps you think I was having a lark? But I wasn't. I was serious. I proposed in earnest to that ninny!" In the evening, Klavdia Mikhailovna came into the ward on her usual round. As always, she was quiet, kind and patient. She seemed to radiate repose. She smiled at Meresyev and also at the major, but looked at the latter with perplexity, and even fear. Struchkov was sitting at the window biting his nails, and as the sound of Klavdia Mikhailovna's footsteps receded down the corridor he looked after her with an expression of anger mixed with admiration. "Soviet angel!1' he growled. "What fool gave her that ? She's a devil in a nurse's smock!"